As the newest member of The Beryl Institute Team, I want to begin by stating how honored I feel to be brought in as the Vice President of Experience Innovation. I started my new role on October 1, 2017 and the timing could not have been better because my first day on the job meant a trip to Southlake, TX for a quarterly in-person staff meeting.
Since I have been a long-time friend and board member of the Institute, it was not a shock to me when I learned that Jason Wolf, President, had assigned the team a book to read for our upcoming (my first) staff strategy meeting. I’ll call it “Jason’s Book Club.” The title of the book was Execution: The Art of Getting Things Done.
I’ll be honest and say that the first few pages worried me because I immediately noticed this was primarily a book about business theory. I have my strengths and having a mind for business is not one I would put at the top of the list.
Turns out, I was familiar with this “world” after all because I have experienced a lot of the dynamics the book explores while working in a hospital and working as a consultant.
According to Execution, the first “building block” of running a successful business requires leaders to cultivate “emotional fortitude.” The authors go so far as to state that “leaders in contemporary organizations may be able to get away with emotional weakness for a brief time” but “emotional weakness will destroy both the leader and the organization.” In reading this, I certainly thought of the leaders we have running hospitals and regulatory bodies but it’s so much more than that. When the book outlined what it takes to achieve emotional fortitude, I felt like I might have been reading my patient wish list:
It’s obvious to everyone that patients and families react differently to illness or injury. Part of what makes working in healthcare so challenging is the simple fact that what makes one person feel safe and cared for may feel like an intrusion or a lack of caring to the person in the room down the hall. With that said, there are some universalities to the patient experience that lend themselves to a core set of needs.
Authenticity. Being a patient usually brings with it some level of emotional “rawness.” Simply put, getting in touch with one’s vulnerability and mortality often brings with it a sense of urgency to cut through some of our society’s typical superficial layers and get to the heart of things. Whether this is the heart of the diagnosis or the heart of what brings life meaning, patients and families crave authenticity from loved ones and the professionals caring for them. For example, as we work to find our True North in creating a better experience, sometimes professionals bring an overly cheery attitude into the room. While this has the best of intentions, it can often rub patients and families the wrong way because it feels incongruous to the patient’s current state. When professionals are not able to acknowledge the tone of the patient or family, they are not able to meet this need for authenticity and the ability to effectively communicate may be impacted.
Self-Awareness. Just as every patient in a healthcare setting is human, so too are the professionals caring for patients. Despite what we seem to be asking of our healthcare professionals in today’s climate, no one person can be all things to all people. Those who know their own strengths and weakness have the opportunity to consciously craft the best possible approach to working with patients and families. As one works on their weaknesses, they can also call upon their team members to support patients and families in ways that may not come as easily to them. Some people explain clinical information very well while others do a better job sitting with those who are grieving a loss or new diagnosis. It is essential that healthcare professionals not expect themselves to be perfect or responsible for meeting every need of every patient/family member. However, by practicing self-awareness, teams can be honest with each other about who is best to serve in what capacity to meet the needs of those they serve. It goes without saying that this level of self-awareness combined with the willingness to strategize around it, requires all of the other characteristics explored here.
Self-Mastery. Being a patient can also bring with it a level of fear or frustration that makes a person behave outside of themselves. To say it more plainly, patients are often at their worst and this can be reflected in behavior that can be read as rude, erratic or impatient. Without Self-Mastery, it is easy to match a patient’s tone of negativity and even take their behavior personally. When healthcare professionals don’t practice self-mastery and they become emotionally effected by a patient’s poor behavior, they may visit the patient less, fail to engage them in co-designing the treatment plan and speak to them in a way that has unpleasant undertones. Self-Mastery is certainly the tallest of the orders in this list. A lack of it also holds the greatest potential for the team to break down and for everyone to feel disrespected. As it relates to satisfaction for patients, families and providers, this is arguably the most important ingredient.
Humility. Humility is a quality that likely does not need much of an illustration. A person who is not humble is often perceived as a person who is not keen on considering the opinions and perspectives of others. In the larger picture, humility is key to patient safety. If a provider cannot humble themselves to take concerns, corrections or stories seriously, they may miss crucial information and possibly make a mistake in the diagnosis or treatment of their patient. As a patient, the possibility of not being heard can evoke fear and frustration. I believe this is because, on a conscious or unconscious level, patients and families know instinctively that a lack of humility is a safety issue.
If your heart is heavy thinking about being both clinically excellent AND dedicated to personal growth, please don’t despair. This list is not just for healthcare professionals. As we continue to explore what it means for a patients and families to be authentic members of the healthcare team, we should also turn this list around to be a set of goals for patients and families.
Imagine the team dynamic if patients, families and providers all were working at authenticity, self-awareness, self-mastery and humility. This team would be filled with honesty, vulnerability and a clear focus in collaboration and co-designing care. Perhaps these are those intangible elements of patient and family engagement that are hard to measure but quite obvious when absent. Perhaps we could use these characteristics as the anchors to a vision for the ideal in healthcare teamwork. And, just think, all of these components of emotional fortitude came from business people! Sincerely, I am grateful for Jason’s Book Club pick, Execution, allowing us to take a look at healthcare leadership and teamwork through a different lens; the lens of a Patient’s Wish List.
Vice President, Experience Innovation
The Beryl Institute
Bossidy, L., Charan, R., & Burck, C. (2002). Execution: The discipline of getting things done. New York: Crown Business.